Feature: Looking back at RollerCoaster Tycoon, 20 years later

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

From the piece:

RollerCoaster Tycoon, released 20 years ago this past Sunday, became the greatest theme park of all for a generation of kids who found it easier to visit the Scholastic Book Fair than Walt Disney World. Like any truly great park, the game seemed to exist outside the normal boundaries of time. Its merry-go-rounds and swinging ships evoked the humble county fairs that had dotted the American landscape for decades, while its most epic attractions were based on modern designs by the elite roller-coaster manufacturers of Europe. The colorful 2D sprites were a step behind the graphically advanced titles of the era, but they’ve aged better than almost anything else released in 1999. RCT was more tethered to the real world than most games—managing marketing budgets and cleaning up vomit were billed as entertainment—but that only helped it create a more orderly, governable version of reality where it was easy to lose yourself for hours.

Read more from The Ringer.

I honestly can't believe it has been 20 years. I can remember entire dreary Ohio winter Saturdays going by in the blink of an eye playing RCT. I can't think of any game, PC or console based, that I became so engrossed in than those games. It was an enthusiasts wet dream that took off and was super successful.

Vater's avatar

I still remember the day I got it. I'd never heard of it before, and my ex girlfriend bought it for my birthday. I was fascinated by the pictures on the box, but was skeptical that the game itself would look or play as good as the box described. As soon as I started playing it, I knew I was going to be hooked. It's the game I never knew I always wanted.

Jeff's avatar

I remember playing the preview version where you couldn't save and just being infuriated every time it ended. I drove around looking for it the day it came out. When the second one came out, Target had inadvertently put it out a few days early, and despite the cash register saying not to sell it, they sold it to me.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

Vater's avatar

Ultimately, RCT is the reason I'm here. I've always had a thing for coasters, but it wasn't until I started joining all the RCT-focused online forum sites I could find that I discovered there were so many other people out there with similar interests. Danimation.com was the first one I joined and was heavily focused on RCT, but over time the owner reformatted the site taking the focus off RCT as he lost interest in the game. Pretty sure New Element (mentioned in the article) spawned from former Danimation members who were frustrated with the constant reformatting, among other things. I never felt at home there like I did at Danimation. I came across CoasterBuzz in 2001 and lurked for almost a year before joining.

Jeff, do you still have all the data from the RCT/NoLimits repository?

Last edited by Vater,
Jeff's avatar

I do! I have all of the data. I was really proud of the game site because it was really efficient, though famously expensive because bandwidth wasn't cheap yet in those days. Actually, at first it didn't cost extra because I was serving the sites from a T-1 at my house. It cost a grand a month, but I could pass as much data as a 1.5 mbit pipe could handle. When I ditched that, the servers were only a few hundred bucks per month, but bandwidth was half the bill. These days the storage and bandwidth are the cheapest parts (last month I paid $3.03 and $4.94, respectively).

Gonch had some great rides in there, and I was pretty proud of some of my scenarios. They weren't that hard, but I tried to create interesting frameworks to build stuff out in. I thought about rebuilding the whole thing (it ran on frameworks that came out 18 years ago) when Planet Coaster and Parkitect came out, but there's little point when Steam is already a thing.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

My first exposure to the game was when a co-worker brought his laptop into the office circa 2002 and we burned away some slow days at work playing the game. I didn't buy it myself until RCT2 came out and I wore it out. I especially liked being able to build wild-ass creations in the sandbox mode when I got bored with the scenarios. I think I had migrated over to using solely a laptop at home by the time 3 came out and I never had much interest in trying to get another desktop machine that could handle it. I bought the iOS version that came out a few years ago and that's the only reason I've ever used the iPad mini that it's loaded on (it was a end-of-the-year gift to my wife from a student and I'm not much of a fan of the iPad). I haven't played it as much as I thought I would, but this article makes me want to get it out.

ApolloAndy's avatar

I remember getting it in the summer of 2001 and literally skipped days of my summer internship to stay home and play it. I still pop in RCT2 every now and then. Almost everything about that game was great. Handyman/vomit management was kind of annoying and so was waiting for enough money to finish a ride, but those are so small compared to all the things the game got right, that it's really incredible that it was programmed by just one person. My hat is off to Chris Sawyer. I have so many fond memories, I should see if I can get my kids hooked on it too.

Last edited by ApolloAndy,

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

Jeff's avatar

You know, I should really dig up the interview I did with Chris Sawyer in 1999 and posted on PointBuzz (then Guide to The Point). I still have the email even if it's not published anywhere.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

OhioStater's avatar

You did an interview with him?

Yes...you really should dig that up!

Of all the games...and all the time spent playing them....there really is something timeless about this.

Last edited by OhioStater,

Promoter of fog.

HeyIsntThatRob?'s avatar

20 years later and my kids still bust out RCT 2. They like it better than RCT 3.

I bought RCT 3 when it came out and can't remember playing it more than a few times. It was great to look at, but if I remember correctly, it was a pain in the *** to build anything and that sucked the fun out of it pretty quickly. I do remember my favorite thing was that you could build (and ride) a Chance Rotor.

jkpark's avatar

I’ll echo what others posted above. RCT is a solid game all the way around. I first saw it advertised as a new game in a Best Buy ad on a rainy Saturday afternoon in April 1999. Took a drive out to the store to check it out. After about ten minutes of reading the back of the box, I took it to the checkout line and headed home to be pleasantly surprised with the awesome game.

I immediately purchased the expansion packs as they came out, and of course the fantastic RCT2.

I bought a copy of RCT3, but only played it a few times wishing the developers just left it at RCT2.

I never really got too into gaming, but RCT was one of those games that I would play at night and look down at at my watch and all of a sudden it would be 4am...

It's the only game where I ever legitimately had to be reminded to stop and eat meals.

Jeff's avatar

The 1999 interviews:


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

It was definitely a surprise having come across this game (I had no idea it had been released at the time, so I had nothing to anticipate). I remember installing it and disappearing into my bedroom for most of the family's annual Easter gathering because I couldn't walk away from it.

Planet Coaster looks cool (downloaded it but never got around to playing it) but I really wish someone would start a Kickstarter or something to make a new version of the original two games. All they need are updates to become addictive all over again. No need for fancy 3D graphics, just add more rides and tweak other things (I always hated not being able to switch a park from POP to pay-per-ride). For the people who still love this game, it would be perfect, 20 years after the fact.

Jeff's avatar

There was a Kickstarter for that. It's called Parkitect and you can buy it in the Steam store.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

Really? Is it any good?

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